Making work delightful

Ideas from Google’s amazingly weird NYC AR/VR team

If you step into Daydream NYC (Google’s NY-based VR/AR office), you may encounter a fog machine billowing smoke on a mannequin or a chicken head next to a hot dog hat (among other oddities). I’m frequently asked how we’ve arrived at such a delightfully weird culture here and how it can be replicated elsewhere. Rather than rattle off truisms, here are 14 specific suggestions based on things we do:

1. Make a wall of memories.

Whenever anything memorable happens, take a photo or screenshot, print it out, and put it on the wall.

A section of our wall of memories

2. Celebrate generously.

Moving desks? Co-worker going out of town? Teammate get engaged? Celebrate!

Surprising our tech lead, Ian, after he got engaged

3. Run competitions.

Internal competitions are a great way to incentivize teammates to try products in dogfood or to just reward people for misc acts of goodness. Cheap, unusual prizes are best. Or a custom trophy.

Slicing Jonathan Rochelle’s real-life cake, his prize for winning an internal Blocks competition

4. Make videos.

Videos are a great way to capture memories from an offsite, celebrate a launch, or announce competition winners. They’re also great at teaching people how to use your product! Here’s an internal video we made to teach Googlers about Blocks:

Never before seen internal video

5. Bake bread.

Literally. Buy a bread machine and make bread regularly.

The smell of bread attracts employees like bears to honey

6. Plan launch festivities

Many teams have launch war rooms. But how many have birthday hats and confetti?

Blocks launch war room

7. Challenge people to make things “Pee your pants” good.

Borrowing from the great Keith Coleman, challenge your team to make stuff so good that users pee their pants a little. We keep a box of disposable underpants in the office just in case.

Best to be prepared when you make a challenge

8. Get team headshots.

Find a local photographer and book 15m slots for everyone on your team. Unique themes encouraged. Trust me.

Software engineer Cappie Regalado posing for her photo

9. Get your entire team in the same room regularly.

Make it fun. Play upbeat music as people enter. Include segments like, “User Creation of the Week” and show demos frequently. Invite guests sometimes.

A shot from the finale of our recent Hackweek

10. Rent houses & cook together.

When traveling as a team — either for offsites or conferences — book a large house and cook meals as a team. Not only will you bond, but you will often spend less than you would otherwise on hotels.

Cooking dinner as a team on a recent trip to HQ

11. Ban shoes.

One thing we did for a while was disallow shoes in meetings. It was partly to keep the rug clean, but mostly to make meetings feel more casual / less like work.

Seen outside one of our VR rooms

12. Welcome new team members in style

We make every new team member create a gif-rich slide to introduce themselves.

Elisabeth Morant’s slide

13. Buy swag people want to wear.

Swag plays a critical role in making people feel like a team. Spend extra to make it hot.

Blocks tees designed by Darwin Yamamoto

14. Run hack weeks

Set aside time, at least twice per year, where people can do whatever they want and encourage them to do things outside their core job. You’ll be surprised at what they make.

A recent prototype used Vive trackers attached to participants’ feet

Conventional wisdom would tell you these are distractions from core work. But, as a co-worker nicely pointed out, most people only have so many hours of truly productive work each day. So if you can make the rest of those hours enjoyable and something that the team can do together, that’s better than whatever they would otherwise substitute it with.

And in the scheme of things, the cost of everything mentioned above is peanuts relative to the price companies are willing to pay to retain top talent.

Are you a founder working on the first draft of your product, looking for investment and advising? Check us out at co-op.vc